Tools and Techniques: Managing Mental Illness in Relationships

Relationships can undergo tremendous stresses from different forces, ranging from financial issues to children. Even the strongest relationships can “take on water” when external stresses grow in number, intensity,...
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Relationships can undergo tremendous stresses from different forces, ranging from financial issues to children. Even the strongest relationships can “take on water” when external stresses grow in number, intensity, or both. Add mental illness to the mix, and suddenly partners are taking on a host of additional challenges that can seriously impact the quality of their relationship. From chronic depression to personality disorders, mental illnesses have far-reaching impacts on both couples and individuals, physically and emotionally debilitating the impacted ones.

Talkspace is seeking to provide online therapy to make therapy available and affordable for all. Within their mission, Talkspace hopes to support those with mental illness in building full and fulfilling lives, including strong relationships and a sense of meaning. Using this online platform provides caring, licensed therapists the flexibility they need to reach a vast array of people, and equip a range of patients with insights and techniques to help manage the effects of mental illnesses. Talkspace recognizes that mental illnesses, like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, can negatively impact an individual’s self-esteem and daily routine, often diminishing the quality of their intimate relationships.

Natasha Tracy, a writer on mental health issues, says, “If you have a very serious illness that requires daily care, this impacts your ability to make connections with others. This statement is obvious to many, but few people have thought about it through the lens of a mentally ill person.”

Tracy also contends that society can create a self-stigma within the individual living with a mental illness, causing the individual to absorb and embody the negative messages attached to mental illnesses. This self-stigma also has a negative impact on relationships. When an individual cannot love their own image in the mirror, they may put themselves in social isolation. If the impact of mental illness deepens, the individual may even push away existing relationships. The emotional, and at times physical, distance can cultivate tremendous anxiety and anger within partners of that person.

Mental illnesses also affect routine. Therapists with Talkspace and other providers find that individuals impacted by a mental illness may undergo significant changes in sleep routines, exercise programming, nutrition, and the like. With a diagnosis and treatment plan in place, these same individuals may adjust routines again to improve wellness. While fluctuations in routine may be necessary for the individual hoping to reclaim a sense of well-being, the fluctuations in routine can also impact the health of relationships. When self-care requires significant outlays of an individual’s time and energy, the individual’s capacity to enjoy conversation, leisure, and work pursuits with others can be diminished.

So, what can impacted individuals and partners do to manage the influence of mental illnesses? For starters, it is important to look beyond the label. As Natasha Tracy asserts, people often assume that the symptoms associated with mental illness are “homogenous,” meaning a certain label always means certain behaviors. Thus, individuals suffering from mental illness may internalize “the idea that you will hurt others because of a mental illness.” Tracy contends that this sort of internalizing is, “simply false and defeating, as is the notion that someone with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder (or another diagnosis) will hurt you simply because of a medical condition.” It is important for partners to look beyond labels, recognizing both the strengths and struggles of the individual.

Partners living with someone who has a mental illness must support each other in wellness. Family counseling, a shared exercised routine, date nights, and excursions are examples of activities that strengthen the rapport of partners, equipping them with positive experiences and opportunities to communicate. Individual spaces and routines may also positively impact the relationship, providing each partner with personal time to reflect, rest, and look forward towards the future.

Obviously, identifying and engaging “partners in wellness” is a must for all those confronting mental illnesses in their lives and relationships. With Talkspace, working with a therapist no longer means traveling to an office and sitting down with a professional for an hour-long session as their schedule allows. Today, technology like Talkspace enables individuals with mental illness, as well as their partners, to seek out affordable, convenient, and confidential care from anywhere, and at anytime. With a few strokes of the keypad, the patient can message their therapist as issues arise and not wait until a scheduled session to say something. Similarly, a partner of a patient may not know how to deal with an unsavory episode they experienced with their loved one. In moments, they can let a professional therapist on Talkspace know about their concerns. Talkspace therapists typically respond to clients twice a day, five days a week. The platform provides the flexibility each of our busy lives demand.

Directly or indirectly, mental illnesses impact all of us. Understanding the impacts of mental illnesses, and adopting practices that foster mental wellness, mean healthy outcomes for everyone involved.